Wendy Lesser: “[T]he literary critics I really care about are mostly dead.”
In response to my post last week about The Late American Novel, Frank Wilson questions my supposition that readers look to novels for validation of their feelings. “I certainly don’t read them to validate my feelings about anything, if only because I feel no need to validate my feelings. I read them to be transported to an interesting place where interesting things are taking place.”* Fair point, but, still, what makes those novels interesting? About ten years ago I heard Robert Christgau say something on a panel that I’ve always kept in the back in my head: “A great song can’t tell you something you don’t already know.” (That’s a paraphrase; I doubt he’d use a double negative, even casually on a panel.) The surfaces of a song, novel, movie, poem, whatever, always have the capacity to surprise us—it’s why we never tire of new ones. But ultimately each of those songs, novels, movies, poems, whatevers, are hitting something that feels familiar.
Jennifer Egan‘s next project is “a novel about the women who worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II.”
Lionel Shriver‘s next book is The New Republic, a novel about terrorism inspired by the time she spent living in Northern Ireland. She wrote the book in 1998 but couldn’t attract a publisher then: “[A]t that time I had trouble getting American publishers interested in the manuscript—none of them were interested in terrorism until after 9/11. Plus they didn’t give two hoots about Northern Ireland—I’d start talking about Northern Ireland and they’d fall asleep. Now in some ways the US cares too much about terrorism and for a long time I felt it would be wrong to publish something that has a sense of humour about the issue. Enough time has gone by for a droll novel to be well received.”
Dale Peck: “[I]t’s my sense that there are talented writers out there who are more concerned with reputation and how that translates into sales than they are concerned with what they are actually putting on the page.”
Hilton Als delivers a thoughtful consideration of James M. Cain‘s work, though the best line in it actually comes from Luc Sante, who called The Postman Always Rings Twice “a prose poem hallucinated from a potboiler.”
Please don’t assume that Suri Hustvedt‘s new novel, about a woman abandoned by her husband, has anything to do with her real-life husband, Paul Auster.
Longtime music critic Tom Moon exposes his own work to criticism, and finds the current reviewing landscape wanting. Many of his concerns are applicable to book reviewing, for instance: “Do I often lean too much on the supplied materials, on the ‘story’ as it is offered up by a publicist? To a degree, that’s inevitable, especially with a high-profile artist. I think, though, that it’s important to strive for some original insight to balance that out. This doesn’t have to be a superlong essay, just a passage or two that anticipates the reader’s question about what happens inside the work—how it sounds, the emotional landscape it strives for, etc. It can be enormously challenging to write those kinds of descriptions, but often it’s that kind of writing that sparks curiosity in readers.”
Newsweek considers novelists who keep at it well after they’re capable of producing good work. Most of the examples cited are thriller authors, who are more often obligated to turn out new works on a regular basis; plenty of exceptions abound, of course.
Rudolph Wurlitzer‘s 1984 novel, Slow Fade, will be reissued this year in book form and as an audiobook read by Will Oldham. (via)
Does the New York Times paywall mean we’ll get an Amazon Book Review? That sound you hear is me shaking a Magic 8-Ball where all the answers are “Doubtful.”
* My heart lifted a bit to learn that Wilson’s link is appended with the four-word parenthetical, “(Hat tip, Dave Lull).” I know Lull only as an intrepid and knowledgeable gatherer of relevant book-related links, though (to the best of my knowledge) he doesn’t blog himself. To be included among his gleanings is high praise indeed.
2 thoughts on “Links: So Much for That”
“But ultimately each of those songs, novels, movies, poems, whatevers, are hitting something that feels familiar.”
Yes! It “feels” sort of familiar, but until the writer put it into words, it was just an inchoate mess inside of us, wasn’t it? The writer — thank God — is able to express the experience and salvage it from its depressing destiny: remaining in the fragmentary chaotic innards of the mass of mute men (all of us who can’t express ourselves). And then, when we read, there is an “a-ha” moment: “yes! I’ve felt exactly that way! I just couldn’t describe it.” How little do we appreciate this capacity of writers, of expressing the experience — we owe them everything. We owe them our very humanity. Would we even be “human” were it not for Homer and his wrestling with the description of what we now call “soul”, and which he divided into “psuche” , “thumos” and “noos”? Here is F.R.Leavis, in “Thought, Words and Creativity – Art and Thought in Lawrence”:
“This is not affectation, but an emphatic way of describing the emergence, as he experienced it, of original thought out of the ungrasped apprehended — the intuitively, the vaguely but insistently apprehended: first the stir of apprehension, and then the prolonged repetitious wrestle to persuade it into words.”
And now writers have the obligation to keep at it, of pushing the envelope, as it were, of what it means to be human; it is from them that the definition of “human” will continue to spring forth.
Thanks, Fabio—“the emergence…of original thought out of the ungrasped apprehended” is a lovely turn of phrase.